Feb 17, 2009

Ratha's Creature and Clan Ground by Clare Bell

Ratha’s Creature
and Clan Ground are the first two books of The Named, a series of YA fantasy books about a society of sentient felines living in pre-historic times. The protagonist is Ratha, a female cat, who is just a cub when we first meet her at the start of the series. Ratha doesn’t quite fit in with her clan. While she shares most animal’s natural fear of fire, she’s also drawn to it, curious about it. Her taming of what she thinks of as the Fire Creature leads to her banishment, but ultimately it proves essential for the species’ survival. Before that, however, Ratha has to leave everything she's ever known behind and learn to fend for herself. I'll avoid a plot summary of Clan Ground because there’s no wayI can write one without spoilers for the first book. So I’ll just say that in the second book we find an older, wiser Ratha, as well as some of her friends from the first book.

One of the most interesting things about these books was the fact that Clare Bell managed to create characters that feel human, but not too human. I mean, obviously this is a human story, and even if we write about sentient lobsters we’ll inevitable give them human traits. So it feels silly to say they were accurate portraits of wild cats, but they certainly felt like they were. They were sympathetic and easy to relate to, but they also had some mystery, and a certain ruthlessness that would most likely make us flinch in human characters. But not in wild cats.

Or not all the time, anyway. At one point in the first book Ratha did something that temporarily cost her my sympathy. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but it’s hard to talk about this without saying some things about the plot. It has to do with her cubs, and the reason why I was mad at her was because I can’t help but interpret the story in human terms. What she does makes sense if you’re a wild animal, but, as a person, the idea of there being an intrinsic quality whose presence of absence amounts to the difference between being civilized or “barbaric” doesn't make me very happy. I initially thought the series was going in a different direction with this. However, the title of the third book indicates that this issue will be addressed again, and I’m really looking forward to finding out how.

Though both were very enjoyable, I think I preferred Clan’s Ground to Ratha’s Creature. The plot was tighter, the issues the story dealt with interested me more, the characters were even more interesting. I liked the older Ratha better than the young one. And plus part of the story is told from Thakur’s (Ratha’s friend and former teacher) point of view, and I like him a lot. At one point he catches a wounded little monkey, whom he domesticates and names Aree. The idea of wild cats domesticating monkeys might seem silly, but believe me, in the book it really isn’t. And Aree was such a great character.

As in the first book, in Clan Ground I didn't always know to which extent I should make sense of the character’s actions in human terms. There are some things that are very, very human. For example, the events that take place in book one end up bringing improvements to the clan’s life, and this means they’re no longer constantly concerned with safety and food. And so, as people do, they begin to desire something more in their lives, something beyond surirval. As Ratha learns, to acknowledge this desire and to use it positively is essential. There are other moments, however, where I felt the same sort of conflict I feel when watching National Geographic documentaries: one day rooting for the gazelle, the other for the lion. But this is actually part of what makes the series so interesting.

Both Ratha’s Creature and Clan Ground were fun, fast-paced and full of interesting characters. They’re good stories, but they’re also thematically complex enough to have given me quite a few things to think about. I’m really looking forward to reading the remaining three books in this series.

Other Opinions:
Dog Ear Diary (Ratha’s Creature)
Dog Ear Diary (Clan Ground)
Into the Wardrobe (Ratha’s Creature)
Words by Annie (Ratha’s Creature)

(Let me know if I missed yours.)


  1. These both sound very interesting! I've always loved books from an animals perspective :)

  2. Glad you enjoyed these. The tension between animal nature and sentient control is a theme that continues to run through the books, and I agree, it's one of the things that makes them so interesting. I hope you enjoy the rest of the books, as well.

  3. I bought the first book in this series for my daughter recently. She really liked it, and wants to continue the series. She likes all fiction realted to animals,sentient or not. Do you have any other suggestions for her?

  4. I've never heard of this series but your review is excellent and makes me want to read them this summer!!!

  5. I've never heard of these books, but I like it that they're told from the animals' perspective.

  6. I hadn't heard of these, either - they sound like great ones to have in my arsenal of recommendations at my library. I will have to check them out!

  7. These just sound like fun reads! Ok...have to get them...

  8. Ladytink, I'm a big fan of them too.

    Sheila Ruth, I'm sure I will! Already ordered books 3 and 4.

    Zibilee: Has she read Watership Down? I absolutely adore that book (as well as the collection of short stories about the same characters, Tales from Watership Down). There's also Varjak Paw by S.F. Said, a series about a Mesopotamian Blue cat. And though I haven't read it yet, I have a friend who swears by The Tygrine Cat by Inbali Iserles. One I really loved was Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones, about a dog named Sirius who's also a constellation. And yes, it all makes sense :P

    Staci, I hope you do! And that you enjoy them as much as I did :)

    Melody, I love that too.

    Darla: Do check them out. I really think you'd enjoy them :)

    Chris: Indeed you do :P They were lots of fun.

  9. I'm so glad you liked these! Reading your post I felt a little twinge that perhaps I gave too much away when I wrote mine; I hope I didn't spoil any of the later books for you.

    It made me smile to see you mention Dogsbody to Zibilee, that's another of my favorite books.

  10. Cats! I bet Emmy would like it if I read these to her ;)

  11. This whole series has really great covers by the way! When I went to add the first one to my wishlist, all of the other ones popped up too...Really excited about it. Might get the first one next time I hit up the library!

  12. The covers would make me want to buy them without reading the blurb. Great review.

  13. I have never heard of this series before. Looks good! Not that I NEED another series to start, but I am still off to see if I can get them!

  14. Never seen or heard of these before. Wonderful covers, great sounding books... added to my 'to get' list. I should really stop coming here. (Not that I would... ;-))

  15. This time of story is always hard to get right, but can be done really well. Ever read the Animals of Farthing Wood?

  16. Hi Nymeth and everyone else,

    Thank you for the excellent review and the various responses to it. I hope people do enjoy the books and I'm always interested in comments.

    Nymeth, if you don't mind, I have put a link to this review on Twitter.

    About getting mad about Ratha. I did too, when she did that. Sometimes characters get away from a writer, and that was an example. But as Sheila Ruth said above, Ratha is not human. She has very strong instincts and has to fight against them. She is also young and impatient.

    If people are interested in more information about the series, please visit my Scratching Log blog on Blogger.


  17. Jeane: Don't worry. I'm a bit paranoid about giving spoilers, but what I notice is that if I haven't read the book, I normally forget the plot summary. I just remember what it's about and if the person liked it or not.

    Lenore: it might give her ideas, though...world domination ideas ;)

    Chris and Scrap Girl: I really like the covers too!

    Kailana: lol! I find myself starting new series all the time, even though I definitely don't need to :P

    Cath: lol! Please don't leave me :P

    Mariel: I haven't, but I've just looked it up and it sounds good!

    rathacat: I don't mind at all :) Thanks for twittering it! It can be so hard not to look at everything through a human lens. But you created the same sort of conflict we tend to feel when dealing with the natural world, and I really like that about the books.

  18. Ooh...she already has enough world domination ideas. I better not...

  19. this does sound like a fun series, and I like the book covers.

  20. I loved your review! I have Clan Ground on my family's Amazon wishlist.


  21. Lenore: I suspect it comes with being a cat :P

    Naida: Yes, the cover art is great!

    Annie: Thank you! I'm sure you'll enjoy Clan Ground :)

  22. Hi again, everyone,

    Here are some sentient animal books or series that I've enjoyed:

    Solo's Journey, by Joy Smith Aiken

    Sirius, by Olaf Stapledon (this one helped inspire Ratha and is mind-blowing-ly amazing.)

    The Dr. Dolittle series, particularly Dr. Dolittle and the Green Canary

    Tail-chaser's Song by Tad Williams

    Duncton Wood, by William Horwood

    Firebringer by David Clement Davies,

    The SilverWing series, including Darkwing by Kenneth Oppel.

    Thank you for all the nice comments about my books.

    If you can't find copies of Clan Ground in paperback, contact either me or Sheila Ruth. Penguin made Clan a Kindle E-book, but made the paperback out of print. However the remaining stock was rescued at the last minute. Clan Ground will also be available online as used, even though the books are new and fresh out of the warehouse.

    If you like, you can follow me on Twitter, where there will be some neat stuff coming up. @rathacat on Twitter.


  23. Thank you so much for the recommendations and the info! I haven't actually read any of those, but the Tad Williams book in particular has been on my wishlist for ages. And that's such a shame about the paperback being made out of print...but at least it's not impossible to get a hold of.

  24. You had me at sentient felines... This does sound like a good series, one that I will look out for definitely. If you want more sentient animal books I adore Brian Jacques Redwall books if you haven't already gotten to them.

  25. Hi everyone,
    I thought you might like to sample the first chapters of Ratha's Creature and Clan Ground, so here's a link: http://www.rathascourage.com/chapters_online.htm

    I'm experimenting with a Ratha novelette on Twitter. You might enjoy it. I'm archiving the story at


    I have read some of the Redwall series and seen some of the cartoon adaptations done Nelvamation in Canada. I also like Darkwing, by Kenneth Oppel.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.